Christianese Substitutions Part 3 – “Hell”

This is part 3 in a list of words that are Greek, or transliterated directly from Greek, but in this case are translated by a different word - “hell” - even though the Hebrew and Greek words have actual meanings of their own.

Also check out “What is Hell? by Br. Lawrence Damien elsewhere on this site, which goes through the Bible in some detail and shows how the words are used.
Part 1 and Part 2 of Hell In The Bible at plus the Biblical “Satan” Is Not What We Think.
And this whole series at with this one, noting how often the Bible says ALL!
For people who want to take the Bible literally, here are: 
21 verses stating that the wicked will be destroyed, 
21 verses saying that everyone will be saved (universalism)


  • Sheol (O.T.): “Asked For”
  • Hades: “Unseen Place”
  • Gehenna: Valley of Hinnom, Burning Dumpsite (outside of town)

The word “hell” is itself not from the Bible at all, it is a word likely traced back through proto-German, Dutch and Norse origin, meaning hidden or concealed place, similar in meaning to Hades, and they are both pagan in origin.

But It is used (why?) to translate the three words above and detailed below, which already have their own meanings. 
(One other word, Tartarus, occurs only once, and then in a participial form, in 2 Peter 2:4, as the place of incarceration of the fallen angels. It mentions nothing about human souls being sent there in the afterlife.)

The concept is not even discussed in the Gospel of John, The book of Acts, or any of Paul's writings. (Peter quotes King David in Acts 2:27,31 and Paul quotes Hosea when discussing the resurrection of the dead in in 1 Corinthians 15:55.) In John 3, the word for "condemnation" is also the word for "judgment" as the NASV translates it. In John 3: 16, the word for perish is the same Greek used for the three lost things in Luke 15, but they were all found and restored. (From a comment by Craig Wright on this article, although i didn't really like the article itself).

Using the actual words Hades and Gehenna as they appear is fine, because at least the reader has to look them up or understand them. But the word “hell,” besides being plain wrong, has been oversimplified and mythologized, even beyond the pagan myths it came from.

This link has a great chart of when each term is used and how they’re translated by some Bible versions.


The Old Testament only has Sheol.

  1. SHEOL

The name Sheol (mostly spelled שאול but sometimes שאל) belongs to the difficult concept of what happens in death, as depicted in the Hebrew Old Testament. For all sorts of reasons, this Hebrew view is somewhat different from the one used in the New Testament (where the realm of death is referred to as αδης, hades or Hades, which is a word that already existed in Greek mythology — Acts 2:27), but only because the authors of the New Testament could obviously afford a different angle on the whole thing. But both substantially differ from the heaven-and-hell model that we moderns are so accustomed too, and which appears to be mostly based on pagan models rather than on a Biblical one (to give a hint: the signature phrase "heaven and hell" does not occur once in the entire Bible)....

In Hebrew, one's soul was not some ghostly ethereal essence, but rather one's condition of being alive (read our extensive article on the word נפש, nepesh, meaning soul). The Hebrew authors weren't so much concerned about the post-life destination of the individual, but rather about the real-life destination of humanity, here on earth. In this context, the Hebrews were much more concerned about one's part in the salvation or preservation of humanity, namely one's "name," that is to say, one's personhood relative to the rest of humanity.”

“The word Hell, in the Old Testament, is always a translation of the Hebrew word Sheol, which occurs sixty-four times, and is rendered mostly as Sheol, grave and hell, as well as death, depths and pit.

  1. By examination of the Hebrew Scriptures it will be found that its radical or primary meaning is, The place or state of the dead.

If the reader will substitute the word "hell" in the place of "grave," ….he will be in the way of understanding the Scripture doctrine on this subject.

  1. There is also a figurative sense to the word sheol, which is frequently met with in the later Scriptures of the Old Testament. Used in this sense, it represents a state of degradation or calamity, arising from any cause, whether misfortune, sin, or the judgment of God.  It is plain that it has here no reference to a place of endless torment after death.


The name Sheol means the same thing as the name Saul, namely Asked For, which is obviously curious enough to have scholars franticly look for another explanation, to no avail.

Some say that Sheol was named such because it's never satisfied and will always ask for more (Proverbs 27:20 and 30:16). But perhaps the concept of Sheol originated as a place of rest after a life of trial (1 Kings 2:6).

The above from:



  1. HADES

HELPS Word-studies:
86 hádēs (from 1 /A "not" and idein/eidō, "see") – properly, the "unseen place," referring to the (invisible) realm in which all the dead reside, i.e. the present dwelling place of all the departed (deceased).

The Hebrew word “Sheol” was translated into Greek as Hades, and became part of Greek mythology, as the home of Hades, the god of the underworld, son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea. brother of Zeus and Poseidon and three sisters, and husband of Persephone.

This word occurs eleven times, and is translated the same as Sheol is.
Hades is put for the grave or the state of the dead, and also used in a figurative sense to represent a state of degradation, calamity, or suffering, arising from any cause whatever.”  


Gehenna is a Hebrew word meaning “valley of Hinnom.” It occurs twelve times in the New Testament (Jesus used it eleven), and is often translated "hell." But since the Gospel accounts overlap, Jesus didn’t really use it more than six or seven times in all His ministry; nevertheless, more reliance is placed on it than all others, to prove that "hell" is a place of endless torment.

The following are the texts: Matt. 5:22, 29, 30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6.  

The Hinnom Valley in Jerusalem is a deep, narrow valley on the south end of Jerusalem. There Israelites worshipped the pagan god Molech by offering human sacrifices, including burning their own children alive….Even King Solomon, who started his reign obeying God, ended up sacrificed his children to Molech, as a result of marrying numerous pagan wives to unite his interests with the surrounding pagan nations.

Eventually Molech and Baal were removed, but then Gehenna was hated so much it was made into a garbage dump where the fire burned the refuse continuously.

“Jeremiah prophesied that one day this land - a garbage dump in Jerusalem called Gehenna - would one day be holy unto the Lord: "'The time is coming,' says the LORD, 'when all Jerusalem will be rebuilt for me, from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. A measuring line will be stretched out over the hill of Gareb and across to Goah. And the entire area--including the graveyard and ash dump in the valley [that's Gehenna], and all the fields out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the Horse Gate--will be holy to the LORD.'" (Jer. 31:38-40)

These types of smoldering dumpsites exist all over the world today, but the Gehenna Jesus referred to as a place of torment has long since burned out.


  • Jesus also says that some will be cast into the “outer darkness, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth” (Matthew 8:11-12, 22:13, 25:30).
  • There is a “lake of fire” in Revelation 19:20 and 20:10: And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are too, and they will be tormented there day and night forever and ever.”
  • But John the Dunker also says that Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”
    (Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16).

    Does fire hone and shape us, does it torture us, does it end us, or all of the above?

            Get the idea they are using a bunch of metaphors to express things?

- - - - - - -

According to this:

“...virtually every time Jesus mentions “gnashing of teeth”, he is talking to or about the religious elite… It’s fascinating that Jesus’ figurative warnings, in a similar manner to his mentions of Gehenna, are NOT made towards the criminals or other types we would typically think of as sinners.”

And: In the last few verses of the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matt 25 it says:
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

The phrase is right there: “eternal punishment.” But the word punishment used here is iskolasis, which can also be translated as “correction.” It speaks to the idea of corrective punishment….

And the word eternal used here is aiōnios, and like Gehenna, it has been completely mistranslated throughout the New Testament. As NT Greek teacher Richard Liantonio explains, aiōnios actually refers to to the length of an Age or “from age to age.” In Greek, an Age could refer to a generation, lifetime, or a longer, finite length of time. It’s where we get our word “eon.” It also correlates with the Hebrew word Yom [translated “day”], which denotes anything from a 24-hour period to an epoch season.

What this means is that any time we see the term “eternal life” in the New Testament, it should actually be translated as “life of the Age.” Among other important things, it means that this phrase “eternal punishment” could more accurately be viewed as “correction for the length of the Age“.... [which is] restorative punishment, as compared to retributive punishment.

- - - - - - -

It could be said of someone (hopefully us):  “Wow, s/he’s living an eternal kind of life” or “a life for the ages” - that is they are focused on eternal principles like love, as opposed to earthly, temporal things that rot and that thieves steal. Why does it need to mean more than that?

LAZARUS (from Hebrew ELEAZER = “He whom God helps”)

People also use this parable to describe the eternal torture of “hell” (it begins at Luke 16:19):
Luke 16:22-24 - The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In the unseen place of the dead, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame.’”

For understanding this parable, i suggest this link at  Edited excerpts:

“The word “torment” here, as above, is a translation of the word basanos, which means "strictly, a touchstone for testing the genuineness of metals by rubbing against it . . ." or for humans, in this verse, basanois simply conveys a sense of testing and proving through punishment.”

“… notice that the rich man identifies Abraham as his father, just as the Pharisees did (John 8:39). The rich man (representing Judah} is now shown to be undergoing reproof, testing, and punishment in "this flame" (singular, not "these flames"). It is quite obvious that the flame is not literal, because a wet fingertip on the tongue would do nothing to quench the pain inflicted by real flames.”

“The word rendered "torment" here is a form of the Greek verb odunao, which literally means "grief," "pain," or "suffering." Predominantly, it conveys the sense of mental anguish, not physical pain. Forms of this word are found only four times in the Scriptures, all in the writings of Luke. It appears twice in this parable, in verses 24 and 25. In Luke 2:48, it is used to describe the anxious distress that Mary and Joseph felt after they discovered the 12-year old Jesus missing on the trip home from Jerusalem after the Passover feast. In Acts 20:38, it depicts the sorrow the elders of the Ephesian Church felt at Paul's farewell announcement that they would never see him again.”

IN REVELATIONS… appears that Hades or the unseen place of the dead is temporary, and people will be judged later (when Jesus returns?) by what they’ve done, and sent to a lake of fire. But note that it says people will be judged by what they’ve done, which is recorded in the book of life, not whether they believe in Jesus or even God (same as the sheep and the goats in Matt 25).

Rev 20:11 - “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Back to this article for the following:

“Apocalypticism is a type of genre that is very much symbolic and cryptic in nature. Symbols are usually culturally developed and must be interpreted using that culture’s perspective or lens (think “Hades” which is from Greek mythology)... In other words, the book of Revelation CANNOT be read literally…

In an alternative view, it should be noted that the word for “torment” in Revelation 14:10 is the Greek “basanizo” which has a primary meaning of testing with a touchstone [as noted above from a different source]. This suggests that the lake of fire might not be for torment or destruction, but rather, for “testing”. The language used here creates an analogy to the testing metal with a touchstone in order to make sure it is pure.

This idea seems to fit with 1 Corinthians 3:13-15,
"… each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”


See how the following verses read with the actual, real meanings of the words:

Matt 11:23, Luke 10:15 - “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you’ll go down to the unseen place of the dead.”
Matt 5:
22: “Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of the Valley of Hinnom.”
(Also note that elsewhere Jesus calls the Pharisees “fools.” I guess it’s OK if Jesus does it. They have an explanation for it here. You be the judge... oh wait God is.)
29: “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into the burning dumpsite outside of town.”

Check out my follow-up to this: BUT WHAT ABOUT PUNISHMENT? 

1 thought on “Christianese Substitutions Part 3 – “Hell”

Leave a comment